Yesterday, I called my favorite priest at my new parish to arrange to receive Confession, Communion and the Sacrament of the Sick before my c-section on Wednesday. I wasn't surprised when I got his answering machine instead of him directly. It had been one of those weeks.
My parish priest called me back within the hour. My heart jumped! Because of my bed rest, I haven't been to Mass in a month. I asked Father to schedule a time for me to receive the Sacraments. Then I started asking him for some general encouragement before I return back to the hospital on Wednesday. Our surface chat about life, soon developed into a deep, friendly, and hilarious spiritual conversation about our Catholic Faith. I learned so much in a short span of time. I also felt such a mystical feeling of Hope after our conversation.
The first thing that Father told me was that the reason I was having such negative initial interactions with new OBs, who started pressuring me to add a Tubal Ligation to my upcoming c-section, was because of fear. "We live in a litigious society," he said. "People sue doctors over everything. Malpractice rates are through the roof. People even sue when a baby has a birth defect and the doctor's didn't tell the parents in time to abort the baby."
To deal with that fear, the doctors can go overboard in the "I must give urgent warnings" department. Instead of having a calm, reasonable discussion about real medical issues-- the strength of my scar tissue, the risk of uterine rupture, the potential for a nicked bladder or emergency hysterectomy, etc.--I'm often on the receiving end of dramatic comments based on fear. Because in a hospital setting, a new OB comes on my case every 12 hours, that's a lot of stress for me to absorb from near strangers.
Father encouraged me to have compassion for the doctors. They have a hard job. He told me "The doctor's aren't used to running into someone like you." At first I thought Father meant, someone with six kids, let alone someone who needs a sixth c-section. But Father told me about something far bigger. He said "Everyone in our society is so selfish. Everything is all about them. Most people find it impossible to focus on something outside of themselves. You are walking into that doctor's appointment thinking about your baby. You are caring about yourself, of course. But you are also trying to make good decisions for your baby and even a potential baby that might come along later into your life."
Father explained to me how thinking about others, is a radical viewpoint in our modern culture. The doctors are used to giving medical advice to patients who are only considering themselves. With that vantage point, total sterilization makes sense. Who the heck wants to go back to the hospital for a seventh surgery, much less wants to pace the floors a 7th time with a sleepless newborn?
For a doctor wrapped up in fear, making a medical decision about cutting up my fallopian tubes is the same type of decision as cutting out my appendix. I'm supposed to think of myself first. My decision about my reproductive organs has no bearing on anything or anyone outside of myself.
Father is a retired college professor. He walked me clearly through the four steps of "double intention." I felt comforted that the church's position (yes to emergency hysterectomies during a c-section, no to tubal ligation that might prevent future harm from a potential uterine rupture) was based on logical reasoning. My Pope doesn't come up with decisions willy nilly. There is a solid decision making structure that is applied to each modern medical question.
I told Father that I feel like our Catholic Faith encourages us to use both our brains and our hearts. I care about my body. I care about medical advice. A good medical decision, however, is something that fits my whole person--my brain and my heart.
Father shared some interesting details of St. Gianna Molla with me. I've felt a lot of resistance from loving that Saint because I had understood her story as a doctor who refuse medical treatment for her cancer in order to save her unborn child. I did not want to embrace that high ideal of literally putting the life of my child ahead of my own. (I'd like to come out of my sixth c-section alive and kicking, thank you very much!)
Yet Father explained to me, like Paul Harvey once said, "The Rest Of the Story." St. Gianna was a female Italian doctor in the 1950s who came down with ovarian cancer while pregnant. She did not refuse medical treatment for her cancer! At the time, she had 3 options available to her. She could do nothing. She could have a total hysterectomy which would unintentionally kill the unborn child. Or, she could just remove the cancerous ovaries, and leave her womb intact for the baby. Father said, that as a doctor, she was well informed of all of her options. She chose the one that was best option for both her and the baby. (St. Gianna died, not from cancer, but from sepsis (or blood poisoning) eight days after her daughter was born.)
I felt so encouraged after learning the full Truth. St. Gianna chose to have medical treatment! She did not passively sit there and let the cancer eat up her body. She used science! I felt encouraged because that felt like a more attainable goal to me. Study the facts. Use modern medicine. But always make the best decisions for myself and my kid (or potential future kids) who I adore sight unseen before their birth.
At the end of our conversation, Father told me a story that gave me the giggles. He told me that he went to the doctor recently for back pain and the doctor turned the conversation to his sex life. "When was the last time you had sex? No seriously, when was the last time you had sex?" the doctor kept asking him.
"We're you wearing your collar at the time?" I asked him.
"Yes, I was wearing my priest collar!" he said.
Father is well over age 60. Just the mental thought of him with his shaggy gray hair, wearing one of his old man grey sweaters with a distinctive Roman Catholic priest collar poking up through the neckline and still getting interrogated from a doctor "No seriously, when was the last time you had sex?" gave me the giggles.
Father really joined in my mirth. "Abigail, everyone has a problem with sex in our culture. I'm seen as completely unnatural for not having sex. Clearly, I must be lying about not having it!"
I started laughing. "Oh Father, we are facing the same struggles. You are getting in trouble with the doctors for not having sex and I'm getting in trouble with the doctors for having sex with my husband!"
It felt so good to have a belly laugh with a priest over this subject. I feel comforted that I'm not alone. Everyone with an authentic Catholic faith has a sex life that is troubling to doctors and the wider social culture at large. I don't have to obsess that I'm facing this specialized problem of "is a sixth or seventh c-section okay?" Instead, I've got to accept the difficulty, use my head, and make the best individualized decision I can make.
Chastity is a rare virtue in this world. I'm going to take courage that many priests, Religious Sisters and Monks join me in the cross of having totally awkward conversations about their sex lives with new doctors. Jesus promised to never leave us alone in this world!
St. Gianna, pray for us!